Spike Schau a 49-year-old veteran is re-enlisting in the Navy (which has a maximum re-enlistment age of 50). Schau had a three-year gap in service and has five years to go to retirement. To be in the armed forces has an emotional appeal for him, but perhaps what runs deeper is riding his Harley with the Patriot Guard Riders.
The PGR is a 149,000-member national group of veteran and non-veteran motorcyclists who attend memorial services for fallen veterans and escort returning service members from the airport to their families.
It's the right thing to do, says Spike, a resident of Oakley.
Recently, the black and pure chrome Harleys of the PGR escorted Airman 1st Class Joshua Jorgensen and Lance Cpl. Matthew Valenzuela to their homes in Brentwood. On Nov. 5 they were to participate in a welcome-home reception for Lance Cpl. Sean Balteirra at his home in Pleasanton. All three men served in Iraq. On Oct. 19, the PGR attended the funeral of Army Sgt. and Sacramento resident Michael K. Clark, who died of wounds from small-arms fire in Mosul, Iraq on Oct. 7.
All PGR missions are coordinated via a series of e-communiques. Last month, one such series said that on the 18th, the PGR would participate in a surprise homecoming for a certain Navy CPO named Adam Stanton in Walnut Creek. Spike was in the middle of the various exchanges.
Mysteriously, the regional ride captain, Doug Lyvere, a retired Marine Corps sergeant major, was omitting details from his e-communiques including the destination writing only that the group would stage at the Chevron station on Mt. Diablo and California boulevards at 1530 hours.
Although puzzled by the scanty data, Spike dutifully passed on the staging information with an attitude that said, "Roger that", a favorite expression of his.
There was good reason for military secrecy. Before Spike arrived at the staging, Lyvere revealed it was a surprise honoring Spike for his dedication and his re-enlistment. Spike arrived and was razzed about re-enlisting, then placed near the end of the formation. Thus in this variation of the Trojan Horse, the target was borne within. The squadron of snarling Harleys led by Lyvere, a global positioning device on his bike, had a neatly typed route description clipped where he could see it. They followed the line of march, escorting the clueless man they affectionately call Spiker. The destination was Bryan Weldens commodious digs in the hills, where 20 American flags lined the driveway, each with the inscription “Never Forget 9.11.01” emblazoned on the bottom white stripe. A huge American flag covered the side of the house. Atop a cupola, a gold on blue (Navy colors) sign read “Welcome Back Spike Go Navy.” A grouping of Never Forget flags flew in front of the sign.
Cars climbed the blacktop driveway many Support Our Troops ribbons on the bumpers, one McCain-Palin sticker and one scrolly blue and gold Cal (Berkeley) sticker. The cars found parking on the brown hillside, crowding in as best they could. Other cars parked out on Scots Lane.
Kevin Graves of Discovery Bay was there. I’m a Gold Star Father, he said, and showed a business-size card with a filmy American flag in the background and these words: Spc. Joseph A. Graves 110th MP Co. KIA 25 Jul 06 Baghdad A True American Hero. On the other side of the card is a photo of everybody’s son, grandson, nephew, husband, friend, boyfriend, neighbor, Starbuck’s customer looking at the camera with the steady brown eyes of his father. He stands on the Iraq landscape in camos, a radio clipped to his chest. In the background sits a Humvee with a top-mounted weapon. Other soldiers are there. Along the bottom of the card is this: Greater love hath no man than to give his life for another John 15:13.
Behind the sturdy fence was a pond, and a lush sloping lawn with tables and umbrellas. Expectation and barbecue were in the air. Overhead, the color was sky-blue with streaks of random-shaped cloud-white.
Sherry Wiggins, a sunny woman in pointy western boots and straw western hat, said she was from a military family in Pleasanton. In my early 20s I was a biker chick and rode on back. Now she shoots her grandson’s flag football games. For her stunning photos of Spike’s party, go to www.picasaweb.com. While we wait with Sherry and other members of the centuria, let’s have a background briefing.
The PGR Web site states, We don’t care what you ride or if you ride, what your political views are, or whether you’re a hawk or a dove. Each mission of the PGR has two objectives: to show sincere respect for fallen heroes and to shield the mourning family and friends from protestors. We accomplish the latter through strictly legal and non-violent means.
In a phone interview, Spike said they do this shielding in various ways, such as forming a shoulder-to-shoulder flag line or by aiming the bikes tail pipes at the protestor and opening the throttle a bit. Spike says there are protestors occasionally, and he once heard this: I’m glad your son died Lyvere, when asked in a phone conversation about the extent of protesting, said, “In comparison with returning Vietnam veterans, I”d have to say none.” He rides because he remembers the ugly greetings he received on his return from Nam. Then he said that he doesn’t want these kids coming home unrecognized. This is a common thread that runs through all PGR statements, by individuals and by groups. Despite the despicable words that Spike heard, this principle is widely honored by the country.
Here they come, not the Sturm und Drang that was expected; more of an orderly roar. You could hear them from a mile away as they cut the throttle a bit going in, then opening it to pull out of the turns. Now they were coming single file up the driveway, headlights on, gleaming spotless black Harleys with the pipe and all of the rest of the chrome not marred by smudge or fog.
They pulled into their reserved area, cut the engines and dismounted. Many wore vests with military patches and mottos such as Vets Don’t Forget. Spike was nearly the last. He alit, was hugged and somebody pointed out the large Go Navy banner on the cupola. From there on it was Spike running the backs of his fingers under his sunglasses, which he kept on for a long time. He received photos, folded flags, a golden spike, jokes, jibes, love, hugs, plaques, a prayer (“Dear God, please bring Spike safely home”) and a “Go Navy, Baby” T-shirt with the requisite, curvy and jutting scantily clad damsel at a ship’s helm. Shy shining Heidi, Spike’s pre-teen daughter, wrote a piece read by his fiancée. Heidi enjoyed playing dominoes with him, although he always won and playing UNO and he would always say “Darn” when picking up the cards.
Tami Jenkins from Delta Blue Star Moms hugged Spike. “You always cry,” said Spike. “And then you make the bikers cry.” Never was heard a political word, although the election with war a topic was but a fortnight away. As always, what was important was coming together to show thanks and respect for returning veterans. With each presentation, Spike got back to the mission. “We will be out there in the dark, wind and rain; we’ll be there at 2 a.m. We won’t let these Iraqi kids come home alone.” Roger that, Spiker.
To honor a veteran, visit http://www.patriotguard.org or call Spike Schau at 925-628-2201, Doug Lyvere at 415-309-2510, Richard Hamilton at 925-679-1224, Francis Curtis, at 925-858-3487 or Terry V. Andreasen at 925-978-1014.